Magazine article The Spectator

TV: Riviera/Wife Swap -- Brexit Special

Magazine article The Spectator

TV: Riviera/Wife Swap -- Brexit Special

Article excerpt

'Riviera is the new Night Manager,' I read somewhere. No, it's not. Riviera (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) is the new Eldorado -- except, unlike the doomed early 1990s soap opera in which Tony Holland attempted to recreate the success of EastEnders on the Costa del Sol, it has at least been glamorously relocated to Nice, Monaco, New York etc.

The settings are the best thing about it. Those Mediterranean palaces with sun-bleached brick-red plaster and bougainvillea and shimmery blue pools and the sun-loungers arranged just so by invisible but discreetly attentive staff: we've most of us had the experience at some time or another, either because we've lucked out and been invited by an uber-plutocrat friend or, more likely, because we've paid through the nose for a weekend at one of the myriad hotels that now specialise in recreating that Onassis in the 1970s experience.

And when we've had it we've all thought to ourselves, 'Yes. This is it. This is exactly how my life is going to be when I win the lottery/write my bestseller/cash in my small hedge fund.' Then we've gone home and realised, 'Actually, no, my life is shite and always will be.' So watching a series about tanned women with sunglasses who've never had to work and men with linen suits, Ferraris and Vertu mobile phones becomes our next best thing.

Which is fine if all you want Riviera for is the equivalent of that computer screensaver of all the pretty tall islands coming out of the water, as featured in that James Bond movie. But not if you want anything resembling an exciting, involving plot with credible dialogue and interesting characters.

Sky drama can do better than this. It knows it can because it made the brilliant Mad Dogs, a series where the rich man's villa in a gorgeous bit of Mallorca wasn't an end in itself but merely the MacGuffin for a white-knuckle ride of paranoia, panic, fear, betrayal and violence.

This one, on the other hand, feels like it was sketched out on a napkin after too many Bellinis at a U2 promo party on some friendly oligarch's superyacht. As perhaps it was. It's 'based on an idea by Paul McGuinness' (he's their ex-manager) but despite the script input of two of the Murphia's leading literati, Neil (Crying Game) Jordan and John (he won the Booker Prize, remember?) Banville, its dialogue and plotting are barely a notch above the kind of Mexican soaps they used to satirise on The Fast Show. …

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